Tall Dwarfs CD review [Carrot Top]

Music Reviews
Tall Dwarfs CD review [Carrot Top]
Feb 11, 2003, 23:16

TALL DWARFS The Sky Above, The Mud Below CD

The Tall Dwarfs' time in the sun was hardly a patch on that of their Flying Nun contemporaries: the small glimmers of widespread underground fame they had in the late 80s waned as The Clean and Chills fandom was in full ascent. Still, those fans who stuck it out with Alex Bathgate and Chris Knox were well rewarded by cohesive early 90s LPs Fork Songs and Weeville, and eccentric, surprising solo works afterward.

If you're new to the Tall Dwarfs, their sound may be startling, even if you've been around the block a bit. Layers of guitars, keyboards and sound effects create a sound that's simultaneously overloaded and sparse, and their vocal harmonies are unabashedly Beatles-esque. It's an odd combination with the music, but it usually works. Listening to the Tall Dwarfs harmonize is like listening to two sides of John Lennon's personality spar with each other: Knox is Lennon's sanguine side, while Bathgate's vocals are dry, angry and sarcastic. While the home studios the duo has preferred over the years has gotten more sophisticated, the songwriting, with its digs and stabs at stuffed shirts, drab suburbs and killjoys, remains both unsettling and playful. “Meet the Beatle” is a sweet tale of being overawed by a meeting with a hero, while “Right at Home” is a dark, snide thudding chug of a cut with the Dwarfs' trademark layered loops rattling like chains in the background and “You Want Me Shimmy” is a near-perfect evocation of Lick My Decals Off-era Captain Beefheart. If the former proceedings aren't expansive enough for you, there's an eight-song coda entitled The Weidenhaüsen Impediment courtesy of International Tall Dwarfs (the TDs trading tapes with Jad Fair, Elf Power's Jeff Mangum and Laura Carter, The Clean and Graeme Downes from The Verlaines).

The strangeness is troweled on here, with distorted vocals, jarring tape-loops and dark lyrical whimsy piled atop the songs. “Open Wide Your Pretty Mouths,” a collaboration with Mongrell, is both representative and a highlight—a bent, troubling Irish reel, with lyrical grotesqueries worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. (“All the coprophiles who haunt the drains/For a taste of something sweet/Smell our dinner guests from blocks away/And make haste upon our street”). That this can exist along the simple, sincere gem “Time To Wait” is clear proof of the Tall Dwarfs' trend-free talent. [Carrot Top]

-Cecile Cloutier

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